Disorderly Conduct is one of those misdemeanor charges I see very frequently. However, it is very rare that I have had a client take a plea to or be found guilty of such a crime. The reason is that this particular statute is written in such a vague manner that it is very difficult for the state attorneys office to obtain a conviction.
In order to be convicted of Disorderly Conduct the officer must witness a person behaving in such a manner so as to corrupt the public morals, outrage the sense of public decency or affect the peace and quiet of persons who may witness them or be in the midst of a brawl or physical fight with another person in public. I have not encountered the “brawling part” of the statute as often as I have seen police officers make arrests for other reasons. The more common situation that I have encountered when defending a Disorderly Conduct charge is when a person has been arrested by law enforcement simply because the police officers making the arrest do not fully understand the law and use Disorderly Conduct as a “catch all” statue to make an arrest when no other crime seems to fit.
The problem with this behavior by police is that people will be arrested for completely lawful behavior. I recently had a client arrested for Disorderly Conduct and Resisting Arrest Without Violence in Fort Lauderdale after asking a police officer a few questions while the officer was “tending” to an injured person on the street. In a situation like that, I would have recommended that my client steer clear of the police officers entirely and leave the police alone to their business. However, I was not there at the time of the arrest to give such advice. Whenever an officer or officers appear to be in the middle of an investigation, arresting someone or are even sitting around doing nothing, the best thing you can do is LEAVE THEM ALONE. Most likely, nothing good will come to you by approaching a police officer, unless you are in need of protection or have just been a victim of crime. Even then, it is good practice to be wary of what information you provide police officers.
Sure, the law permits you to ask a police officer where they are taking someone who is being arrested, or even to ask why the person is being arrested. However, most times when people approach a busy officer, that person will end up getting arrested for “obstruction”.
Cases involving Disorderly Conduct or Breaches of the Peace sometimes involve some type of physical component like fighting. Other times, arrests for Disorderly Conduct or Breach of the Peace involve only verbal incidents. What does this mean? For example: What would happen if you started chanting “F@#k the Police!” when you see a group of officers standing around? First, the officer will likely order you to stop and leave the area. But what if you refuse? You will likely be arrested. But it does not end there. Consider the case of State v. Saunders 339 So.2d 641 in a Florida Supreme Court decision, the court dealt with the issue of speech as the basis for a Disorderly Conduct charge. The court decided that no words besides “fighting words” would be used as the basis for a Disorderly Conduct charge:
“In light of these circumstances, we now limit the application of Section 877.03 so that it will hereafter only apply either to words which by their very utterance inflict injury or tend to incite an immediate breach of the peace or to words known to be false, reporting some physical harm in circumstances where such a report creates a clear and present danger of bodily harm to others. We construe the statue so that no words except fighting words or words like shouting of ‘fire’ in a crowded theater fall within this proscription, in order to avoid the constitutional problem of over breadth and the danger that a citizen will be punished as a criminal for exercising his right of free speech.”
Back to the example: If you shout F the police, the Court would have to consider what else you did along with the shouting. Disorderly conduct charges will likely be dismissed or found not guilty wherever the defendant creates an annoyance, uses profanity, causes a crowd to gather, or displays a general bad attitude. Verbal conduct alone is rarely found to be the only basis for a conviction of Disorderly Conduct. If it’s just you on the street and nobody seems to care what you’re doing and its only the police that get annoyed by you shouting “F You” to them, then there’s very little likelihood that you’ll get charged and convicted of Disorderly Conduct.
If you know someone who has been arrested and you want to know what has happened to them, or what may happen next, there are many places you can check for information. One good place to check would be at the police station in a calm manner to speak with either the arresting officer, or their supervisor to find out what the arrest was for and what the next steps are in the process. The best thing to do if someone you know has been arrested is to contact a Fort Lauderdale Criminal Defense Attorney to look into this issue for you.